Many will read this title and the immediate response would be "doesn't happen in the UK". Unfortunately, this is a misconception and the giving of dowry is an ingrained practice that takes place at almost every Asian wedding.
What is not known is the exact amount of money that often exchanges hands and the value of the expensive items given as part of the dowry.
I took part in an interview with the BBC Asian Network addressing dowry and practice in the UK and found that throughout legal practice, many come across dowry and are ill informed and do not understand the value behind this custom. The interview can be heard at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017sxjk.
Many solicitors do not understand the dowry system and may take the view that items cannot be recovered and some may be politically sensitive and not ask questions for the fear being seen to be racist or are too careful being culturally sensitive.
The main problem that under pins this practice is that the concept of dowry giving and receiving is so in grained within culture that it is considered the norm to give and accept such items. What must be understood about this practice is that it is not necessarily a demand that is made by the grooms family. Often, the Brides family will fund the items for the dowry and give them to the Grooms family alongside the bride when she leaves her paternal home. It almost a given that this practice will take place and it is expected and accepted with no questions.
The Grooms family will often accept all items and take them with the Bride although no demand may have been made. In more extreme cases however, where demands are made by the Grooms family the Bride may be ridiculed or humiliated by the Groom and his family if they feel the items brought to their home are inadequate. In this setting domestic abuse is often heaped upon the Bride and for fear of bringing shame upon her family, the Bride will endure this often for many years.
So how does the UK deal with this practice and what laws are there to protect the bride and her family in the event the marriage ends and they seek the return of the Dowry? The answer is that there are no laws and the practice is not afforded any protection.
This is where the solicitors understanding of Dowry is important. A solicitor who is aware of the sensitivities surrounding this practice can build this into negotiations rather than an after thought which is often the case at Court Hearings where I have often heard solicitors say ' oh, and there is the dowry as well'. And that is as far as it goes. Well what about it? Where is it? If it was a bank account you would seek financial disclosure. The dowry is the same. It is an investment and in some cases many families can produce receipts and documentation of the value of such items.
The practice of Dowry is so underground in weddings that it is difficult to determine what items are dowry and which are gifts. This is mostly where the problem lies. The Grooms family will say they are all gifts and therefore should not be returned. Then there is the argument is this a gift to the Bride or the Groom?
The return of the Dowry is always a problem in that the Court will not litigate this issue as costs can often exceed the overall benefit to each party. For example if the value of the dowry is £10,000 and each party is to spend £5000 in terms of costs for a final hearing to decide the issue, then there is no monetary benefit to the parties.
The Courts tend to hear evidence which is limited on this issue. It should also be understood that the Court is limited in that it can only apportion the assets that are immediately available to it. Often the dowry argument is one that remains an issue within the community long after the marriage has ended and the case concluded.
So is it fair that the brides family should lose their money in this way? If they had invested money into the matrimonial home and registered their interest against this property, then on the sale they will receive their share. However not many families will seek to take these steps for fear of offending the Groom and the family. But should the family wash their hands of their life savings simply because they fear the marriage may not take place or that they may face ridicule?
Most families will invest heavily into the marriage and then often have no way of recovering the Dowry or its monetary value. However, if your solicitor is aware of this practice it can be discussed and raised as part of the negotiations early on. Many that want to save face in the community will often agree to return the items for fear of being labelled greedy and jeopordising any future prospects of marriage proposals to their family and other children. However, just as many will simply do nothing and often end upon retaining the items after the Bride may give up trying to recover the said items.
It is clear that this practice exists but if a law was passed in relation to the giving and receiving of Dowry, would it stop? Well, lets look at countries wher Dowry practice is against the law. In India there are laws against this practice and despite that Dowry remains common practice within the South Asain, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. Many women are burnt alive and tortured due to the Dowry and even those families that have given a Dowry beyond their means may find it did not live up theexpectations of the Grooms family. So the woman are ridiculed and beaten.
Their families have to suffer knowing that this suffering is taking place and in some cases the Bride will not tell her family so as not to upset them. So a law may not benefit. But recognition of this practice and making it a consideration under the usual factors considered by the Court would assist many of those that live in the UK.
Clearly, the Court does need to recognize that where such a practice has taken place it should be considered more fully and any matrimonial settlement should reflect this.
If you can relate to this practice or you are going through a marriage breakdown then please contact Leeds Family Law Ltd on 0113 3944145 for your FREE consultation.